Sewerage overflows caused by wet wipe blockages are down 40 per cent in Tauranga following a council-led campaign to change the city's flushing habits.
Tauranga City Council's $63,000 Save Our Pipes From Wipes campaign was created just over a year ago to highlight the havoc wet wipes were causing in the city's wastewater system.
"Wet wipes lurk in pipes and bind with fat to create rock-hard fatbergs, which cause blockages and wastewater overflows," according to the council.
At times, the sewerage overflows forced swimming spots to close due to health risks. One such incident shut down popular Pilot Bay for a week in January 2018 - the peak of the summer holiday season.
The blockages cost thousands of dollars to remove - an estimated $168,000 in 2017/18 alone - and wet wipes were responsible for 30 per cent of all wastewater system blockages.
Many brands were labelled as "flushable" but did not break down fast enough for wastewater systems as they were designed to be resistant to water.
The campaign - created in a collaboration with creative communication agency Wave - was launched in October 2018.
It was fronted by an elephant lodged in a toilet to symbolise the two tonnes of wipes the council was removing from city pipes every week, and a catchy jingle - "wipes, wipes, wipes in the loo" - reminiscent of folk song Skip to the Lou.
City waters manager Steve Burton said the elephant was plastered on social media, billboards, bus backs, newspaper pages, posters in public toilets, radio and more.
Particularly problematic neighbourhoods received a direct mail drop, and educational information was also delivered in schools, preschools, libraries and local hotels, motels and backpacker accommodation.
Burton said there was an overwhelming response to the campaign.
"From online comments, to direct interactions at events, we know that there have been people that have stopped flushing wipes as a direct result."
A survey taken after the campaign ended found 92 per cent of respondents understood wet wipes were a common cause of blockages.
But the real measure of the campaign is behaviour change.
Burton said the council compared wet wipe-caused blockage data from the peak spring and summer seasons - October to February - before and after the campaign.
"This data has shown the number of sewerage overflows has reduced by 40 per cent."
In the 2017-18 period there were 50 dry weather overflows and blockages, compared to 30 the following year.
To top it off, earlier this month the campaign won a Communicating for Change award from the Sustainable Business Network.
The award praised the council's educational "non-blame" approach and its choice of a cute character to "broach an icky topic via the metaphor of the elephant in the room".
In 2018 the campaign was expected to cost $55,000. The total spent so far is $63,000.
Two other councils - Western Bay of Plenty District Council and Hauraki District Council - have adopted the campaign at no charge.
The council hopes more will follow.
"The more New Zealanders who are aware of the impacts of the use of wet wipes, the more we all stand to gain," Burton said.
The council was also working with Water New Zealand, who were developing a new "flushability standard" in the hope government could have more influence over labelling of wipe brands.